Japan's Olympus to propose board seat for activist investor ValueAct

A man walks out from Olympus Corp's showroom in Tokyo December 21, 2012. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's Olympus Corp 7733.T said it would propose to give top shareholder U.S. hedge fund ValueAct Capital a seat at its board, a rare move in the country where activists are still viewed by companies as asset-strippers to be resisted.

The Japanese medical equipment and camera maker also said Yasuo Takeuchi, its vice president, will become chief executive officer from April 1, replacing Hiroyuki Sasa.

Shares of Olympus jumped more than 10 percent after the announcements on Friday.

Olympus said it would propose Rob Hale, partner at ValueAct, be named a director at its annual shareholders meeting in June as part of a management reshuffle aimed to enhance global governance. Shareholders will need to approve the nomination.

ValueAct, which started investing in Olympus more than a year ago, emerged as a major shareholder in May with a 5.04 percent stake.

“The governance changes Olympus announced today will better enable the board to support and supervise management in their implementation of Olympus’s strategy to become a global leader in the medical technology Industry,” Hale said separately.

Olympus also said it would seek advice from ValueAct in the selection of two additional board directors, underlining a shift is underway in Japan’s attitude toward activists - traditionally seen by boards as not legitimate investors with whom to engage.

Activist investment is gaining momentum in Japan, backed by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that sees active engagement between firms and shareholders as a valuable spur to economic growth.

Reporting by Junko Fujita and Makiko Yamazaki; Editing by Himani Sarkar